Welcome back to the Monday morning church podcasts. Today, our guest is Lainie Thomas, who’s joining us from Community of Faith church in Texas. Hi Lainie, how are you?
Good morning Neil. Fine, how are you?
Excellent. Excellent. I’m excited to speak with you, to hear more about your story. Why don’t you start off telling us about how you got to be in your role at Community of Faith?
Awesome. Well, I’m actually starting my 17th year full time ministry. It’s been a unique journey and very God-breathed from the whole thing. This is my third large church staff, and I’ve had some really unique opportunities in service and leadership over these many years. I started out years and years ago after the birth of my second child, as an assistant to a worship pastor.
Yeah, it was really awesome, was one of my big passions at the time. I just volunteered at my church in Tennessee where my family lived at that time, and my worship pastor boss, who became my boss, just saw a lot in me and my volunteer leadership, and just asked me to come and work for him, which is very unique and very cool all the same time. And basically, he just mentored me and my husband and taught me everything he knew about leadership. And I tell my former boss Mark that if he ever writes a book, it should be Wings and Boundaries because that’s what he did for us. He had a really unique way of hiring great leaders. People that were excellent, had a lot of skills, confident in their abilities, and then teaching them, just pouring down into them great leadership skills, which are those wings, giving you wings to fly and then painting really great boundaries. Just lead here in this area, and when you got really great at that, he would repaint the boundary for you and just constantly challenging you to grow in your leadership abilities.
And so, I did that for five years, and God really blessed and called my husband into ministry during that time, which made a lot of sense that he had that call upon his life. And we moved our family a thousand miles away from home to Texas, the Dallas-Fort Worth area. And I got the privilege to, because of my experience in Tennessee, to go right on staff at a large church in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, while my husband went to (St. Mary’s) and he, off the work part time, which is why I did it really, was too put him through school. But I feel that calling and my seven years on staff at our church, in the Dallas-Fort worth area, I oversaw production and creative ministry, which I learned in Tennessee. But here in this position, in that position, I had to administrate as well. I had to create and make everything come to life, and then administrate that and see that out to fruition for all the worship experiences across our… our church. So that was a really unique time. That was really my first full time creative experience. And boy, that’s a challenge and it’s super fun.
Yeah, and then, as God would do as I had been praying, honestly, the lord allowed our family to move to Houston. My husband began to just, increase in his roles of leadership at that church. He’s amazing. He would love to talk to him but he is not here.
Yeah, next time.
He was contacted by our current pastor here in northwest Houston, Mark Shook at Community of Faith, and the lord just opened, just flung wide open the door for us to come down here for Bradley to accept his role as connection pastor here at Community of Faith. I didn’t go to work at the church right away. I have two kids. I really was concerned about them getting adjusted to new life. My daughter was starting high school. She had a high school she would have attended with 800 students in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. But now, here we are in Houston and her high school has 3500 students. So, it was just a lot of moming that needed to be done during that early time here in Houston about five years ago. And the kids adjusted really well. And so, what am I gonna do with myself is kind of where I’ve found myself? And at that time, our current executive pastor, who also served as our worship pastor, I had just began to volunteer, that I love to serve, and as God has done with me and my journey and ministry, an opening came available. His current assistant had a baby, and he reached out to me and said, Lainie, would you come and work for me? And when I showed him my resume, he was very surprised. Bradley and I didn’t staple our resumes together to come down to Houston. I just wanted the lord to do what he wanted to do with my next step and there it was. And so all of the years before the administration and leadership, I learned in Tennessee, the creative and production work that I really honed my skills on up at our church, in the Dallas area, all fit exactly what my first boss here, at Community of Faith did. And it was just an excellent partnership. And I said yes, and we started the hard work and the amazing work, and that has just been unbelievable. About two and a half years into working there my then executive pastor, our pastor and him asked me to take a step up and take a promotion. And take on my current role, which is the director of executive initiatives, which means that I would really just work beside our executive pastor and more for our pastor Mark Shook and his wife, Laura.
I think just my abilities and the fact that our church is really structured globally. We have a campus in Mexico and ministry partnerships around the world, and someone really needed to be able to lead out here at home when the global aspect of Community of Faith was needing attention or growth or something was happening when all of the leadership needed to travel together. Who would run the business aspect here at home in Houston? And that was me. And so, I said yes to that. And it was super exciting to just to get a little more authority is how it felt like to me. I wasn’t seeking it, but it was needed and necessary, and I could see that. And so then, about nine months later, our executive pastor stepped out of our staff to move back home, closer to his family, and pursue a different dream that have been growing in his family’s heart and life. And there I was. And so, my pastor just looked at me and said, Lainie, can you do this? And I said, if you think I can do it sir, I know God will equip me and we’ll just do it together, cause we have an amazing team here. So, that’s been over a year and a half, and I just feel like a big sponge. I’m just learning daily and trusting, and I love what I get to do and who I get to do it with and I feel incredibly blessed.
That is an amazing story to hear about your transitions from one place to another, from Tennessee to Texas, and just the roles that have been there and how people continually saw something in you that said, you’re equipped to do something more and you have that ability to learn those things. It’s a really incredible story.
So you fulfill the role of an executive pastor now at Community of Faith. What all sorts of things do you oversee that are different then maybe when you were just the executive initiatives director?
Well, that is still my title, the director of executive initiatives. We have an executive team that is made up of all the pastoral leadership staff, and they really together… I would say, this is very unique about Community of Faith, and just speaks how amazing our bosses, our pastor, Mark Shook. But together, I feel like we all are like the executive pastor and my aspect of that is just the business. And I’m just great with details. I always have been… it’s one of the things I think that have just been one of my greatest qualities and all the jobs that the lord has been able to give me. This is crazy, but I have a really great photographic memory, not identical, but kind of close. And I love to use that in my administration to assist the people that I’ve worked with. So, I feel like this team together, it’s really… if that can make sense to the world that listens to your podcast, together we form the function of what our executive pastor used to, and I just hold all the details for everyone. So, my role includes everything from managing the overall budget, where the other team members on the executive team manage their individual budgets.
My job is the overarching budget each month and quarterly, the budget prep at the end of the year. I also work alongside our finance manager and HR director, any hiring of new staff, all those details, getting someone up to speed, pushing down COF DNA, that is something we say a lot here. That all falls upon me in association with the pastor that would have hired that person. So, I’m very involved in the hiring process here, and then I, because of what I did before, because our former executive pastor had a dual role, I have continued to have those dual roles. I give leadership to our creative team, all channels, all of the creative aspects for our worship services, as well as the marketing for our church.
We are a very missional church. Everything here’s about simple elegance and just being on mission’ cause we work for former missionaries and so that’s unique. So, I do give leadership to the team, the creative art director and his team where churches stories and that story team is really the lifeblood of what we do here, so I’m kind of the bridge to them. And then, because when I started working for executive pastor, my weekend role, that’s something about community faith, we work six days and take one off, and everyone has a weekend role. And my weekend roll has been the main worship production. Producer is the word that we use here. As I hold the details for my pastor and the others, because that’s my experience from my last two churches, that’s been a natural fit for me. So I give leadership to the worship and production teams. Includes tech, the worship leadership team, made up of four amazingly young worship leaders, the band and all of the tech volunteers. Now, there are a lot of people that lead that team, I just lend leadership to them and kind of a bridge for details. And then, of course, all the other administrative things that I mentioned. So, I really consider myself just a bridge of details to all the people that are leading out based upon even that leadership principal my first boss taught me. Have enough courage to hire people that are amazing at what they do. And then you have the confidence to lead them, equip them and lead them. And so, that’s my role here. I love it. I wear a lot of different hats. I try not to wear them all the same time, but sometimes I do, they stack nicely and I do a lot of praying. So.
Yeah, yeah. You seem like such a central lynchpin part of what’s going on at the church there, just to be able to, like you said, connect all the details into what’s going on in so many different areas in the business to the creative side, to different elements like that. I’d like to focus a little bit on your HR and hiring processes that you follow because you talked about that DNA is so important and making sure a culture fit is there. So can you tell us a little bit more about the process that Community of Faith follows when it comes to bringing in someone new for a position? How do you make sure that someone fits into your culture?
That’s a great question. We have a very small staff church our size. That’s by design for now, it is growing. And that’s definitely a prayer for of ours… for the future. But I think the first thing, because we’re a small staff, Mark likes to call us the green berets, the tip of the spear. And so it really is a unique person that can run the pace we run and get the concept of what we’re doing for church for the unchurched. And so, I would say the thing that makes the most difference for us is gonna be the relationships. It’s not often that we can post as a matter of fact, I think it’s filled up almost 95 percent of the time.
We posted a job, posting somewhere on a site, all those sites where you go to hunt for a position you need to fill. It hasn’t really worked for Community of Faith. It doesn’t mean that we hired from within… it’s just a very relational… connected from someone that you worked with at a former church who knows someone who and you have to work really hard to describe what we’re looking for. And then it’s about spending time with people. There’s coffees and meetings or Skype, if they don’t live close to us to just talk through, here’s how it looks here, how does it look where you run. Lots of questions back and forth. Then coming into town if you’re out of town. We just recently did this with a kids pastor of the last piece of our kids pastor team, who moved here from Louisiana, and we knew his boss that oversaw him and the church in Louisiana, and so, we reached out to him and said, hey, tell us about this guy. Tell us about Sam. And then we just began to create, as quickly as we could, a relationship with him and his family, so very relational, at Community of Faith. I think that the Holy Spirit really enlightens us to if someone is going to work out. And it’s kind of like auditioning in front of a member of your family, for lack of better word.
These job interviews are very, very relational spending time. It’s not very corporate, it’s dinners and coffees and conversations, that’s very much Community of Faith, very much our pastor. And then I feel like the Holy Spirit just lets us know if this person is gonna fit into our DNA. And then we get them here and we say, okay, the first thing you need to do is relax. It’s basically called a detox period at Community of Faith. Everything you know from your corporate church if they come from a corporate, more corporate typesetting, and church. Relax, we’re gonna shed that and we’re gonna push down in your Community of Faith DNA, and as quickly as you can learn, and we’re gonna trust you to lead but staying real closely attached, not micromanaging in any way, but just time again, relationship building of here’s what Community of Faith is like. Because we are a church for the unchurched we can’t use churchy words, people in northwest Houston just don’t get them.
And so we’re very cautious of the kind of lingo we use, keeping everything very real, very relaxational. So, there’s that detox period of time where people go through and then you know they have it. Our pastor spends probably, I would say every other month, he spends DNA time with the entire staff. We just… our staff meeting every Tuesday is prayer and that’s crazy for most people, but we literally have prayer meeting. We share good stories about the weekend. Pray over everything that’s coming, pray for each other, press down any DNA that needs to be pressed down for that next week or the following thing that’s on the horizon at Community of Faith. And then we run. Now everybody, here we go formation, let’s get it done. The hiring process is very relational, and I think as well as when you’re forming relationships, you know it, there’s a gut feeling, then there’s the Holy Spirit aspect, and then there’s a lot of trust that’s placed and just seeing if things will work.
We also… it’s very unique here, that because of how we’re structured, our pastor has instituted a 90 day period of time, it’s a very big trust factor right here to say, okay, let’s see how the next 90 days go. How do things work for you? How are things working out for us? So, there’s a really big important meeting that comes 90 days in, about how we’re doing. How much DNA have you captured? Is that coming out of you? Is that reflecting in your ministry? So, that’s really cool. I’ve enjoyed all of those meetings. I’ve only seen one time in my five years here that that really didn’t work out for someone who wanted to go back and the lord had made a way. Kind of left everything open for them where they came from. And so, that’s unique, but it works for us. And the church staff here is amazing, and everyone of them is completely… I hate to use the word loyal, but committed to the ministry and the job before them, because it’s like your family, you can’t let your family fail.
Sure. Yeah. That’s really a good insight into how that process goes. Yeah. A lot of people find success with just throwing a name out there on a website. But I think this relational approach sounds very strong in terms, especially we talking about a DNA of a culture to keep. Sounds really great. Lainie, let’s shift the topic a little bit to technology. Something we talk about with a lot of our guest here. What are some of the things, obviously on the creative side, you have a lot of things you use. I’m sure to keep yourself running, but from the business side, what are some things that you rely on, some software, some different things that really keep the church going and keep you sane as you try to manage everything.
That’s a good question. Yes. Well, everything around Community of Faith is about simple elegance with a great amount of excellence. It’s our mantra when it comes to anything, so nothing should be complicated. Everything should be user friendly. And so, of course, I inherited some things that I would like to change in the future for those reasons, for the simple elegance and simplicity and excellence. But user friendliness, there are some technology aspects of our business and I would love to change that. And we are in the process of changing, we’re simply a Google platform with email, data sharing and things like that. It’s pretty simple, it works for the rest of the world, so why wouldn’t it work for us.
One of our main tools is Planning Center Online. They’ve really done a lot of work to increase all the services they provide, but simply across Community of Faith in every ministry, and not only in the worship and creative aspect, which is, it’s a fabulous tool for the creative arts. But, we use it to invite our volunteers, to schedule volunteers, positions from everything across campus, from the nursery to the parking lot, to the cafe, to communion. Of course, to the worship and production team. It’s just a database that really works for us because we also share some data in those regards with our Mexico campus, and so we can all be on one platform. So Planning Center Online is a really big deal for us. Every ministry uses it, so it allows us all to be in the same place. Then we use ServiceU for master calendaring. We figured out some cool new twists we could use to help us with marketing and communication in the last year and a half on that. Something that I have to keep my pulse to a lot. It is just how to communicate effectively with everyone as we communicate to the larger church body, and then I think my greatest, or my favorite thing that we found recently was the Echurch and partnering with them, develop our app. A giving app that we used is there, giving portals called PushPay.
And when you have a church for the unchurched, and we don’t have a lot of activity through the week. So the weekend is our main thing and the technology that the world is, what can you do on your phone? Everything needs to be simple, easy to access, and what can you do on your phone while it’s sitting in their hand. So we developed our app with them. We use that to push up notifications for events. The calendar is on there, registration for events is on there. You can access our pastors sermons on there, you can get bible readings on there, everything. And then the most wonderful part of it for us in administration and the finance is the giving side of it. There’s three easy ways to give using push pay. You can text to give, download the app or give online with your computer. So that’s amazing, because a lot of our people, they’re not churched all the time. So, when they come and it’s in front of their face, they’re so responsive. So how could we get them to respond right here in their seat? And so, push pay has been a really big deal, it’s really changing the giving culture of our church. We’ve seen a lot of blessing and favor on that in the last two years, especially since we opened our new building and anything that I can partner with E-church about, they’ve just started doing events and all kinds of things. So there’s a big future with them, and that’s where my attention is heading to see what more they’ll develop because it’s already working in our church culture. Those are my favorite technology things that keep me sane, as you say.
Yeah, yeah. No, that’s great. It sounds like a wide variety of things to be able to pull from. Like you said, I’m sure it’s taking many years to get to this point in the church, but it seems like you guys are in good setting and have a good course of the future too.
Lainie let’s close our time here with you giving some encouragement to other executive pastors who are listening here. From someone who’s new to the role a little bit, more home grown in terms of how it’s come about for you. What’s something you would tell other people listening in.
First off, I love your podcast, so I was super excited to discover it. I have listened to many episodes and have learned a lot, wrote copious notes as I listened to the amazing people that you have been speaking to. So that was very helpful to me for me. For me, like you said, home grown with where I am today, I can’t start my day without spending time with the lord. I have to be in the word, the Holy Spirit, as you just listen to my story, he’s always just opened the doors and just invited me, I think, to take the next step on this journey. And so, spending time with him when this role became available to me, in the first request before executive pastor left, I just spent time with the lord and said, is this something we can do? And God said, this is the soil I’m gonna plant you in and I’m gonna equip you, just press in, spend time with me. So, I think the Holy Spirit has been one of my biggest teachers in the last year and a half. Of course, my amazing pastor who just presses down more DNA in me, keeps the vision alive in me so that I can communicate that out to other people, spending time with our executive team.
They are some brilliant men and women, and it’s a great honor to serve them and to hold all the details for their very important job to keep us knitted together. And then Community of Faith, it’s just the way we’re structured is something that I’ve learned over my last three church jobs, is that we pray as much as we prep. That’s why staff meeting is prayer meeting on Tuesday. We can make 1000 plans. We can read 1,000 books. We can attend 1,000 conferences. We can hear a lot of theories about ways that it can be done, but God knows. He is El Roi, the God who sees. He is Jehovah Shammah, the God who is there. And so we tap into everything that God wants to do. What’s coming next lord? And to be authentic we say, it’s not something we can do lord. This church grew so fast, it was your vision, your dream, your church. So, now you’ve chosen us to lead it. We pray all the time at Community of Faith. Every meeting, the goal, as our pastor’s wife keeps in front of us, is to pray as much as we need. That’s not always possible, but everything at Community of Faith involves prayer. Each week we send out an email that covers everything that will happen on the weekend. And then one of our executive team members, sends out a prayer email with scripture. And our team, our staffs walk around our campus and pray that scripture over the rooms over the plans that we’re making, as our people walk into what God has used us to prepare for them, to take their next right step this week in their journey with Christ. So prayer… these are very simple and old things as far as encouraging goes, but it’s one hundred percent what keeps us successful at Community of Faith, the kind of mission that we have. So, I have spent a lot of time in prayer.
Yeah, it’s so refreshing to hear you say all this. Listen to the spirit. Pray, be in the word. It’s like you said, you can make it complicated. There’s a lot of good things to learn out there from lots of different people, but these are some of the essentials that we all need to remember. It’s a great reminder.
Well, Lainie, thanks a lot for joining the show. I really enjoyed it and appreciated it, and I’m sure everyone else did too. Thank you very much.
It’s been my pleasure. Thank you for asking.